Thursday, October 29, 2009

Diary of a Mad Housewife: Micah and the New Normal (or: William and His Doll are So Yesterday!)

Wednesday was a bit of a comedy of errors.

I decided earlier in the week to finally paint the living room, after living for many months with a big red test swatch on one wall. I had bought a gallon of this test-swatch color, a slightly orangy-red that is very pretty, but not exactly what I want, as it turns out. It makes me feel like I'm in a fun, funky Indian restaurant -- exactly the right color for eating Indian food, but not exactly the right color for doing all the other things I do in my living room. Having already purchased a gallon of it, and knowing that red takes at least three, sometimes four coats to cover, I decided to use the wrong red as a base coat, and then get a gallon of the right red later to finish the job.

So I made Trixie fix herself a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner (meal planning and preparation in the midst of home renovation is not my forte), and then after dropping her off at swim practice, Micah and I headed up Rising Sun Boulevard to my friendly, not-quite-in-my-neighborhood paint store to get that gallon of the right red. We also planned to go to the Wawa for hot dogs. Julie was still at school grading papers, which is pretty much what she does these days, like a machine.

About two blocks from the paint store, it occurred to me for the very first time that it might not be open, and that I really should have checked before driving all the way up there. It was after six, and getting dark, but when we pulled into the lot, the lights were all on, and the door was open! But no, they were about to close. The very nice lady at the counter said I could buy a brush or something small, but I knew there was no chance she was going to mix up two gallons of paint for me (Michael needs another gallon of the special-order lime green I used to paint his living room in the parsonage this past summer.)

I was feeling pretty impressed with myself that I didn't just collapse into a puddle on the floor, and instead decided to make the best of a stupid situation. I picked up a few color chips that I needed, and Micah and I headed across the parking lot to Wawa, where we got hot dogs and chips, and I got a diet Pepsi and he got a strawberry milk.

Now before I can finish this story, there's something you need know about my family that is utterly absurd: we own three cars. Not only that, but two of them are vans. Yes, for all our eco-crunchiness, we are really just a mean, carbon-spitting machine of a family. And we are NOT proud of it. It is utterly stupid. But let me explain.

When Micah was a toddler, I took care of a lot of kids, one baby about twenty hours a week, and several more neighborhood kids before and after school. My natural tendency to righteousness has, in general over the years, melted more and more into humility, and one of the most humbling moments in my life was when we purchased a mini-van. I was humble, but boy was I happy. I loved my mini-van! I loved, and still do love, being the mom who could haul lots of kids around safely, who could pick up other folks' kids from school in a pinch, who could make last-minute plans because there was room, who could take a van-load of kids to the zoo or the aquarium on days when there was an early dismissal. I still love nothing more than a van full of kids, a bag of snacks and a knitting project or a book so I can ignore the kids whenever we arrive at our destination. My silvery-blue Honda Odyssey has a big spooge of yellow and green gunk on the carpet in the back that I think was once silly putty; it's always really really messy, even though I clean and vacuum it pretty regularly; it's scratched and nicked and dented all over the place, especially the back bumper because I'm a terrible parallel parker. That bumper has three bumper stickers on it, all faded and nicked up: "Lactavist," "God Bless the Whole World, No Exceptions," and "I Believe in the Separation of Church and Hate." Yes, I love my van. It has made me humble but oh-so-happy.

We tried being a one-car family for awhile, but we just failed. It's really stupid too, because Julie works just four miles from our house. But there's no reliably safe way to get there by bike, it's just a little too far to commit to walking every day, and she would spend an hour on three busses to get there by public transportation. There's no one in our neighborhood to car-pool with, and it was a lot of extra driving and time and coordination for me to drop her off and pick her up, especially since she generally tries to get to work pretty early. So several years ago we bought the "new" car, as Micah still calls it, a 1989 boxy silver Toyota Camry. Our friends thought we were nuts, and being taken for a ride by a smarmy used car salesman, but as it turns out, it really was the dreamed-of little-old-lady car -- you know, the one that the little-old-lady drives to church and the grocery store once a week and that's it? It had something like 50,000 miles on it, and the little-old-lady was the mom of the car dealer, so it had been meticulously maintained, with the whole maintenance history faithfully recorded and tucked in the glove box. We got it for something like $3500, and it was the best car buy ever. We've put a little bit of money into it, but it is an utterly reliable around-town vehicle, and we love it.

And then about a year ago, Julie inherited a 1989 VW Westfalia camper van from her aunt and uncle. Auntie and Uncle Bill took this van on one trip through Canada and then parked it in their garage, where it was used only by squirrels for fifteen years. We've had our eyes on it forever. It has a pop top and the back seats fold down into another bed. There's a stove and a fridge and little closets and cupboards and it's all very Euro-sleek but in a late-80's sort of way. When Uncle Bill died and Auntie went into a retirement home, their three vehicles got divvied up among their two nieces and their nephew, since they were childless. Without really thinking it all through, we jumped at the VW. Julie,especially, became completely enamored of it. She would come out of stores to find people peering into the windows. Men would stop her in parking lots to ask questions about it and regale her with stories of their own beloved VW's. And there was even a tow-truck driver who took a call for a flat tire after he was technically off duty just because he loves VW's so much.

The plan was to sell the Honda as soon as we got the VW in good working order, which shouldn't have taken very long, because it was actually in pretty good shape. But after years of sitting in the garage, a few things needed tending to. I also demanded that a second bench seat be installed because without it the van only had four seat belts, which made me no longer the mom who can haul lots of kids around. As it turns out, the tending of a 1989 VW camper van can take awhile (and, ahem, a bit more money that we intended), but it was all good, and by this past summer, we did all of our considerable summer travels in the camper van.

But we just keep not getting around to selling the Honda. Which is just profoundly stupid. What is even more stupid is that I keep driving it, because the VW just feels so big and clunky, and it's not my natural inclination to get in it if the Honda is right there too. But the other day when I drove the kids (including several neighbor kids) to school because it was raining, the battery on the Honda was dead. So I took the camper van, like I should have any way, and just left the Honda there for a few days. Until the Toyota started acting a little weird, and needed to go into the shop. Julie took the VW to school, and I called our good friends at AAA, who have never made a single penny on our family, despite the fact that we have the totally top-shelf premier membership. The battery was jumped and I let it run for a long time and much later in the day when I got into the Honda to take Trixie to swimming and then headed up to the paint store, it started like a charm.

But when we got out of the Wawa with our hot dogs and chips? Not so much. This time I really did almost collapse in a puddle on the floor. But Julie talked me down, and then I called AAA again, and this time they just changed the damn battery while Micah and I played "Rock, Paper Scissors" and "One Two Three Four, I Declare a Thumb War" in the parking lot while we watched. And finally, considerably past Micah's bedtime, we headed home with our hot dogs and our new battery, which we had driven all the way up the boulevard to get. But no paint.

On our drive home, apropos of nothing, Micah asked, "Mom, do you like boys or girls better?"

"Hmmm," I thought. "I don't think I could really say, categorically, that I like girls or boys better. There are some things I like girls better for, and some things I like boys better for. For example, I like girls better for marrying, so that's why I'm married to Mama Julie. But for having sons, I like boys better, like you. And for being friends, I really like both boys and girls. So I love being friends with Jennie and Pat and Kate and Jen and Suzanne and Cassie, for example, but I also love being friends with Woody and Joey and Tim and Dan and Pete and Michael and Mark. So I guess I couldn't really say if I like boys or girls better. I guess it just depends."

Micah thought about this for a minute. And then I asked, "How 'bout you? Do you like boys or girls better?"

"Boys!" he declared, without hesitation.

"Oh," I said, "That's interesting. Because Ada and Meg are two of your very best friends."

"Yeah, I like them, but I still like boys better. Nial and Jasper and Ian are my best friends."

"Yeah, they're pretty good friends, aren't they? I'm glad you have such nice friends." And then, just out of curiosity, I asked, "How about for marrying? Do you think you would rather marry a girl or a boy?"

And again, without any hesitation, Micah declared: "A boy!"

And here's the thing: I believe, more and more, that human sexuality is a very fluid thing, and that it's usually not useful to put labels on people until they are ready to put them on themselves, and even then they can change, and that's not only good, it's a beautiful thing. But right now, if you really pushed me, I would probably put money on the chances that Micah will, in fact, marry a girl. But I just couldn't be happier that at six and a half, it still seems perfectly normal and even likely to Micah that he might marry a boy someday. We are so blessed and I am so grateful to live in communities -- neighborhood, church, school -- where boys marrying boys and girls marrying girls is just the new "normal."


Eric said...

Amen, Sister!

Joanna said...

Aw. That whole post made me so happy. Not least because the sight of your minivan around town would always make me freak out with joy. (I would buy that car from you, btw. Totally.)

(No, I'm serious.)

Sophia is just leaving the preschooler sex-role rigidity thing, and now our main problem is that she keeps suggesting polyamorous solutions to the neighbors so she can be in the same family as her friends -- with two mommies and two daddies. Hee.

Patrick said...

Fabulous. I feel like there are more kids in Micah's position than ever before. Even the college students I see regularly seem, more of them, to have a less rigid sense of themselves on this topic. Probably most of them will still end up with partners of the opposite sex, but they don't seem to sweat it so much. (Funny possible corrollary to this: almost none of them draw me wearing imaginary swimming trunks any longer.)

Marta said...

eric: i CAN'T WAIT to see you on friday!

jo: you wanna come to philly and buy it, and drive it home to tennessee? just kidding! the sight of a comment from you makes me freak out with joy. that and your awesome writing. and also your awesome kids. and your awesome self. smooch.

patrick: young people these days do make me feel so hopeful. but really, the kids drawing you with imaginary swimming trunks? uh, LOSERS. i mean wtf? ;-) hey, have a great time in ca, and keep me updated on the guy with the flowers, hmmmm???? ;-)

michael caine said...

on african american radio stations with significant nj audiences (ie nyc and philly markets) there are these stupid ads that insist if voters don't demand that their elected officials promise to protect "marriage" then everyone will have to accept gay marriage whether or not they like it.

every time i hear that ominous threat, i wonder what it means? i often say "i don't believe in television or air conditioning" and wonder if that sounds as if i doubt their existence? likewise, what does it mean in this threat to be forced "to accept" something that just is? does anyone actually believe (or fear) that you can legislate love? or is the suggestion that if gay marriage is legal, next heterosexuals will be forced into same gender relationships...

Joanna said...

um, yes, actually, we may want to do that! emailing you now...

Greg said...

Sorry about the paint SNAFU, but I do love that conversation with Micah. The new generation will lead us closer to enlightenment, won't they?

So, beside "right", how would you describe this new red?